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Spectator competition winners: what Keats really thought of that nightingale

25 March 2019

9:23 AM

25 March 2019

9:23 AM

For the latest challenge competitors were asked to submit a recently discovered lost poem by a well-known poet that makes us see him or her in a new light. Step for-ward, Philip Larkin, flower arranger, Slough fan John Betjeman and knickers-on-fire Emily Dickinson.

Congratulations all round are in order this week, but I especially admired Alanna Blake’s palinodic villanelle from Dylan Thomas:

Calm down, relax, accept the dying light,
It will be unaffected by your rage,
For all our sakes, give up this futile fight…

And G.M. Davis’s Tennyson, who reveals what he really thought of her maj:

What a prissy old Queen is Victoria!
She looks like a case of dysphoria
In the straitest of lace
With that vinegar face,
Though they say that in private she’s whorier.

High fives to runners-up Stanley Pearce, David Silverman, Tom Braithwaite and Paul Freeman. The winners snaffle £25.

Derek Robinson/Keats
My head aches; too much blushful Hippocrene
Hath dulled my wits and set my senses reeling.
My eyes are red, my face a sickly green
From all that wine. And as I vomit, kneeling,
In hope that easeful Death may intervene,
I am tormented by a dreadful squealing:
That loathsome Nightingale, although unseen,
Is not unheard; the creature hath no feeling!
It screams the livelong day, and half the night,
Mocking me with its pestilential clamour,
A brutal din that gives me no respite
As though my head were pounded by a hammer.
Were it a horse, I’d send it to the knackers’.
Begone, foul bird! Sick, loitering and pale,
Henceforth, I shall foreswear the fruits of
Bacchus,
And stick to wholesome draughts of ginger ale.


Hugh King/ee cummings
everything is in lower case since
i dropped the typewriter and the shift key
jammed it looked to me like false humility
but it was art they said so i stuck with it
also the commas and stops unreliable
and i wish it wouldn’t put things
in brackets (in brackets) like this
when i accidentally hit whichever
key it is i wish i knew and the carriage
return is on a hair trigger see for yoursel
f but amazingly people say they understand
my stuff bless them i am truly grateful

but i mean what are they taking
and where can i get some

Chris O’Carroll/Milton
When I consider how my sight has lost
Its power to perceive your loveliness,
I offer you instead this fond caress.
What eye cannot find, hand may yet accost.
Not all five senses have art to exhaust
The bounty your whole shape and grace express.
When one fifth fails, the rest join to address
The loss. Spare my warm touch your touch of
frost.
Your hair’s deep scent, your honeyed mouth, your
voice —
All newly vivid where this blindness reigns,
They are my evidence of what is real,
Like these lush swells in which I now rejoice,
Clasping you aft as joy ignites our veins.
They also gaze who only cop a feel.

Bill Greenwell/Ted Hughes
The leek lay on the worktop, straight.
Much crunchier, they said, than a scallion.
Its leaves tight, crisp white sheaths.
Its blunt stalk safely shaved.
Softly charred, or crushed in a quiche,
Or it could be au gratin.
All it needed was a dollop of cream.
It wanted ginger, roast pea croutons.

I chopped it with my Sabatier,
A diagonal slash through the green
Releasing a mild, oniony scent,
Raw and ready for the steam.

It was time to get a skift on.
No vegan likes a faff. This leek
Called out for freekeh, for butter,
A gurgle of Sauvignon Blanc.

W.J. Webster/Ted Hughes
BEAR
Once ginger gold, its nap
The down of a leveret’s pelt;
Round eyes, anthracite, proud;
Mouth stitched shut, caught
On the edge of a smile.
Worn now by devotion,
So long held ward against
A dark turning world:
Between thing and creature,
A conjured being.

Sylvia O. Smith/Keats
What was my wretched poem on about?
‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…’
It’s Autumn, and the weather’s up the spout.

‘Warm days will never cease’ — I have to shout
With bitter laughter, mingled with distress.
What was my wretched poem on about?

‘Maturing sun’? Forgive me if I doubt
That I have ever seen it shining less.
It’s Autumn, and the weather’s up the spout.

Torrential rain, no chance of going out;
My garden is a soggy, sodden mess.
What was my wretched poem on about?

And what the hell just bit me on the snout?
A small but vicious gnat would be my guess.
What was my wretched poem on about?
It’s Autumn, and the weather’s up the spout.

Your next challenge is to submit an extract from a novel that chronicles the adult life of a well-known fictional hero from children’s stories (please specify). Please email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 3 April.


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